Freshly dumped? Living the single life? Romance is a sham? Your significant other's tech job uprooted them and replanted them in the Deep South? Excellent. Go to Olive Garden on Valentine's Day.
It's warm in Olive Garden. The walls are a welcoming color. It smells like salad dressing. Everyone seems happy you're there.
A couple years ago on Valentine's Day, my friends dressed to the nines and journeyed up to the Lynnwood Olive Garden to have their own friend date. They loved it. The people-watching is amazing—the Garden is a very popular date spot, it turns out—and so are the endless breadsticks and bottomless salad. What more could you want?
If the "tech job" example in my first paragraph seemed a little too specific, there's a reason. This past week, my boyfriend relocated to Georgia. We're doing the whole "long distance" thing. It's supposedly temporary. But adapting to that absence has been a struggle. Especially for me. I'm a worrier.
So as a distraction, and an excuse for some hearty Italian food, I took inspiration from my friends and treated myself to Olive Garden. I brought two coworkers—one of them single and the other one craving free food on The Stranger's dime. Our waiter, Andy, gave us his business card, which says he's a "RockStar" real-estate agent when he's not waiting tables. He told us he's from Macon, Georgia.
"I just turned 50," said Andy, who didn't look 50. "Wine, classical music, and the arts keep me young! That, and I don't sweat the small stuff!" Sage advice, Andy.
There was a mini-tablet on the table where we were supposed to order. It was confusing. We just wanted Andy. Also, why did the mini-tablet have a camera? Olive Garden Big Brother—is that you? We sought out Andy. And, with his help, we feasted.
For the appetizer, we indulged in loaded pasta chips (fried ravioli that you can dip in marinara sauce). It's genius. We gobbled them up before the first set of breadsticks even came out. Then, of course, we ate breadsticks. They were piping hot, and we dunked them in a five-cheese marinara sauce boat. Then came the salad, at first undressed. Once we got dressing, it had a delightful tang. We had two helpings. The wine, while zesty, tasted like watered-down grape juice, which made it easy to drink a lot of it.
For the entrées, one of us had a Tour of Italy (three dishes: pasta, lasagna, and chicken Parm). One of us had baked ziti. One of us had classic spaghetti and meatballs. The place was packed with couples and friends and families. I wonder if they finished their food. We sure didn't. Olive Garden is truly an immersive experience, and Olive Garden always wins.
Andy said his goodbyes. When we told him we worked at The Stranger, he told us he loves The Stranger so much that he sometimes sends the print edition to his friends back in Georgia. Then he told us that the New York Times and the Washington Post were fake news, so we weren't sure how to feel about his compliments about The Stranger anymore.
I went home and slept soundly for the first time in a while. For lunch the next day, I toured the rest of Italy.